The Successor

“The Successor” by Ismail Kadare (Albania)

Synopsis and Review

“The Successor”: any resemblance between the characters and circumstances of this tale and real people and events is inevitable

The Designated Successor was found dead in his bedroom at dawn on December 14. Was it suicide or was he murdered? This question sneaks through Ismail Kadare’s masterful psychological novel. As the state insists that the future leader died by his own hand, foreign analysts begin to have doubts. As the tension builds and rumours escalate, Kadare draws us into a nightmarish world controlled by rules no one understands, blending dream, myth and reality to produce a mystery and a thriller that sometimes confuses and sometimes surprises up to the last page.

Based on actual events (the death in 1981 of Mehmet Shehu, Albania’s then second-in-command who was set to succeed the dictator Enver Hoxha), this political thriller was banned in Albania (source: WLT World Literature Today, Vol. 80, No. 5, September-October 2006, p. 25).

Members of the Book Club were divided on their impressions of the book. Some readers didn’t really enjoy it, finding it difficult to get into. They found the shifting changes of characters, time and place disorienting. The fact that very few of the characters had names made it difficult to empathise with them. On the other hand, other readers found it a seriously good book, which they felt was well constructed and which purveyed the atmosphere of living in a police state in a highly convincing manner. During the ensuing discussion that focused on the different characters, with members trying to work out whodunnit, those who hadn’t really enjoyed it on the first read, started to warm to the more subtle messages and mythological references running through the story. They came to the conclusion that the novel has a lot more to it than it first seems and that it is well worth the read (and perhaps even a second read to really appreciate it!). The book averaged an 8 out of 10.

Nicola’s Book Club reading list

Season 5 – “Censorship in the 21st Century” (Feb – Jun 2007)

“Fahrenheit 451” by Ray Bradbury (U.S.) *
“The Successor” by Ismail Kadare (Albania)
“Beyond Illusions” by Duong Thu Huong (Vietnam)
“From a Crooked Rib” by Nuruddin Farah (Somalia)
“The Zahir” by Paulo Coelho (Brazil)

* The book club favourite
In italics, Nicola’s Coup de Cœur

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